Two ethics controversies occurred before the ABC debate (transcript here) even began.
- DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz really is a shameless and audacious hack. Does anyone seriously defend her? After being justly criticized in the news media for unabashedly hiding the Democratic candidates debates, staging them on weekends and against football games to smooth the road for Hillary, she actually had the epic gall to accuse the GOP of doing the same thing in a tweet yesterday, which read:
“Hmmm, wondering why @GOP trying to hide their #GOPdebate on the Saturday of #SuperBowl weekend no less?!”
Is she that lacking in self-awareness? Was she mocking herself? Is she an idiot? After she was blasted left and right for the tweet, she either revealed her real objective or concocted a face-saving retort:
“.@TheDemocrats debates set viewer records. Both parties’ broadcast network debates on wknds. Replies to SuperBowl #GOPdebate make my point,”
Whether this was her original intent of a U-Turn, it was also her trademark, a ridiculously transparent lie. “TheDemocrats debates set viewer records” is deceit: all the debates by both parties have exceeded previous viewer levels, but the Republican debates have significantly out-drawn the Democrats. There is no doubt that the Democrats would have drawn more had they avoided weekends like Republicans did, and that the fact that they did not was entirely intentional.
Why do Democrats tolerate a sleaze like Wasserman Schultz? It is natural to judge a party by its leadership, and she is neither bright, nor honest, nor effective, nor appealing.
The other issue was the unfairness of leaving Carly Fiorina out of the debate. I don’t pretend to understand the formula used to demote the candidates, but since all of the other potential debaters–Gilmore, Graham, Huckabee, Santorum, Paul—had dropped out, either Fiorina should have been given a chance to debate herself for two hours, which would have been fun, or be in the main debate. Her New Hampshire poll numbers are equivalent to several who debated last night.
1. Unless everyone is wrong, the debate will be remembered as Marco’s Meltdown: the moment when, just as he was on the cusp of becoming the leading contender for the nomination, Marco Rubio wrote himself into a Saturday Night Live skit as the robotic, pre-programmed candidate that hilariously malfunctions mid-debate. After being criticized by Chris Christie for always defaulting to memorized talking points, Rubio repeated the phrase “Barack Obama knows exactly what he’s doing” along with a similar exposition three more times in rapid succession, prompting Christie to say after the first repetition, “There it is. There it is. The memorized 25-second speech. There it is, everybody” …whereupon Rubio repeated it again.
Is it fair that to Rubio that this is being made into such a big deal? Absolutely. We saw him under intense pressure from a master button-pusher, and he failed the test.
2. While he was foundering, Rubio tried to tu quoque Christie–an evasive logical fallacy— after the New Jersey governor alluded to Rubio’s atrocious attendance record in the Senate, with Rubio saying,
“Chris, your state got hit by a massive snowstorm two weeks ago. You didn’t even want to go back. They had to shame you into going back. And then you stayed there for 36 hours and then he left and came back to campaign. Those are the facts.”
(Then Rubio repeated the “Obama knows what he’s doing” phrase again…)
Christie, who is good at improvising when he doesn’t get too mean, replied,
“You know what the shame is — you know what the shame is, Marco? The shame is that you would actually criticize somebody for showing up to work, plowing the streets, getting the trains running back on time when you’ve never been responsible for that in your entire life.”
3. The ABC hosts, Martha Raddatz and David Muir, led off the night by asking Ted Cruz and Ben Carson to vet the controversy over Team Cruz telling Iowa caucus-goers that Carson had dropped out. (I examined the episode in detail here.) Carson said,
“But you know, today is the 105th anniversary, or — 105th birthday of Ronald Reagan. His 11 Commandment was not to speak ill of another Republican. So, I’m not going to use this opportunity to savage the reputation of Senator Cruz. But I will say — I will say — I will say that I was very disappointed that members of his team thought so little of me that they thought that after having hundreds, if not thousands of volunteers and college students who sacrificed their time and were dedicated to the cause — one even died — to think that I would just walk away ten minutes before the caucus and say, “Forget about you guys. I mean, who would do something like that? Now, I don’t think anyone on this stage would do something like that. And to assume that someone would, what does that tell you? So, unfortunately, it did happen. It gives us a very good example of certain types of Washington ethics. Washington ethics. Washington ethics basically says, if it’s legal, you do what you need to do in order to win. That’s not my ethics. My ethics is, you do what’s right.”
Really? One of things that isn’t right is to say you are not going to criticize or impugn the character of an opponent, and then immediately do exactly that by innuendo. Later, after Cruz gave his version of the episode—which I agree with—and said that Carson had accepted his apology, whereupon Carson violated Reagan’s commandment again, and basically called Cruz a liar:
“In fact, the time line indicates that initial tweet from CNN was followed by another one within one minute that clarified that I was not dropping out. So, what happened to that one, it is unclear. But the bottom line is, we can see what happened, everybody can see what happened and you can make your own judgment.”
CNN has been in high cover-our- ass gear since this fiasco, and had reporter Dylan Byers rush into print the official denial that its reporting created the impression that Carson had dropped out. Since the mainstream media detests and fears Ted Cruz, everyone is backing CNN and Carson here, but don’t be deceived. Yes, Cruz’s team was opportunistic and ruthless, as he is; that’s also called politics. Carson’s team was incompetent and completely to blame for creating the impression that the candidate was quitting, and CNN took the cue, so its early tweets definitely hinted that Carson was about to withdraw.
“CNN never reported that Carson was suspending his campaign and never issued a correction, because there was no need to do so,” writes Byers. This is retroactive deceit. Everything various tweets from CNN had stated as fact was literally true; it was also very misleading. If Carson’s announcement that he would not be going on to New Hampshire like every other candidate wasn’t significant, why was CNN reporting it at all? If it was significant, what is the reasonable inference from the fact that in a week when two other GOP hopefuls had quit, a one-time favorite rapidly falling in the polls who has no business running anyway is not going on to the next primary? Carson, CNN and Cruz all botched this, and only Cruz has apologized. Carson’s organization was incompetent; CNN’s reporting was sloppy; and Cruz’s team was influenced by confirmation bias to believe what it should have checked first.
Carson also buried an irresponsible and bizarre ethics theory in his first statement, when he said,
“I will say that I was very disappointed that members of his team thought so little of me that they thought that after having hundreds, if not thousands of volunteers and college students who sacrificed their time and were dedicated to the cause — one even died — to think that I would just walk away ten minutes before the caucus and say, “Forget about you guys. I mean, who would do something like that?”
Who? Oh, just a responsible candidate honest enough to realize he shouldn’t be running and that the sooner he gets out of the race, the better off the party, the campaign and the nation will be. If the fact that a lot of people have been passionate supporters means that it’s a betrayal for a candidate to quit running when it is screamingly obvious that his White House quest is hopeless, then no candidate would ever drop out before the convention.
Carson’s continued presence is a triumph of ego and delusion over ethics. He says his ethics are “do what’s right”: well, what would be right is to get out of the way and allow the qualified professionals to compete without his irrelevant distractions.
4. The news media, since they detest conservatives, are now pushing the false narrative that moderate conservative and lesser evil John Kasich shined last night. He didn’t. He was just better than he has been—less twitchy, cheerier, didn’t say “You know what?” or “Guess what?” quite as often as usual. He’s an annoying speaker, with a terrible presentation: unpresidential, dorky, awkward. He is absolutely unelectable, so naturally the mainstream media is trying to make him the nominee. He’s even worse than Jeb Bush, who can’t deliver a sentence without multiple “ums” and “ahs.” There is no excuse for any politician’s lack of baseline competence in communication, except laziness, lack of diligence, and arrogance. Barack Obama worked at being a good speaker. Bush and Kasich haven’t, and I have no sympathy for either of them.
5. Donald Trump again defaulted to lies, obfuscation, free association patter, well-worn slogans (“America doesn’t win any more”) and vagaries almost without fail. Even though his routine of never specifying what he will do was referenced by the moderators, they never forced him to break the pattern. Two lowlights: when he was booed for being gratuitously insulting to Jeb Bush, Trump attributed the reaction to the supposed fact that all the auditorium seats were filled by donors to various campaigns, and thus anti-Trump by definition, since he’s not accepting donors. The RNC stated after the debate that about 10% of attendees were donors. I’m sure Trump’s constituency—you know, morons--was at least that large.
The other bottom of the barrel moment was Trump’s “solutions” to the Veterans Administration problems, including…
“There’s tremendous fraud, waste and abuse in the Veterans Administration and if I’m running things, that’s going to disappear…… and it’s going to disappear quickly.”
I thought that the hoary “waste, fraud and abuse” (that’s the traditional order) dodge to pretend budgets could be cut without really cutting anything was so discredited by decades of candidate evasiveness that no politician today was cynical or dishonest enough to use any more.
6. Moderator Incompetence Department:
- Argh! Who cares about the definition of a conservative? This is the mirror image of the idiotic “Who is a real progressive?” exchange in the Democratic debate. The obsession with labels is useless and divisive.
- Is the issue of whether women should register for the non-existent draft the most unimportant question asked in any debate so far? I’d put it well behind “What woman should we put on the ten-dollar bill?” and maybe even “As Commander-in-Chief, what would your code name be?”
7. Marco Rubio recovered to demonstrate impressive strength of character after his humiliating take-down by Christie. He did not seem to retreat or lose confidence, and deserves ethics bonus points for one of the clearest and most ethically competent statements about abortion I have ever heard from a politician:
On the issue of life, to me, the issue of life is not a political issue. It’s a human rights issue and it’s a difficult issue, because it puts in conflict two competing rights. On the one hand is the right of a woman to choose what to do with her body which is a real right.
And on the other hand is the right of an unborn human child to live. And they’re in conflict. And as a policy maker, I must choose which one of these two sides takes precedence. And I have chosen to err on the side of life.
Here’s what I find outrageous. There has been five Democratic debates. The media has not asked them a single question on abortion and on abortion, the Democrats are extremists. Why doesn’t the media ask Hillary Clinton why she believes that all abortion should be legal, even on the due date of that unborn child. Why don’t they ask Hillary Clinton why she believe that partial- birth abortion, which is a gruesome procedure that has been outlawed in this country, she thinks that’s a fundamental right. They are the extremists…when it comes to the issue of abortion, and I can’t wait to expose them in a general election.
My only objection to this is that “gruesome” is a call to the ick factor, not ethics. A procedure isn’t wrong because it is gruesome.
8. The torture/waterboarding question, with one exception, elicited either convoluted, self-contradictory or horrifying answers.
Ted Cruz, to his credit, appeared to say that even though waterboarding isn’t technically torture (there is considerable disagreement on that point: I think it’s torture), the U.S. shouldn’t employ it or any other form of torture unless “it were necessary to, say, prevent a city from facing an imminent terrorist attack.” That’s the generally accepted exception to the absolute ethical prohibition against torture: the ticking bomb scenario.
Donald Trump, predictably since he is literally ethically illiterate, said,
Well, I’ll tell you what. In the Middle East, we have people chopping the heads off Christians, we have people chopping the heads off many other people. We have things that we have never seen before — as a group, we have never seen before, what’s happening right now. [RATIONALIZATIONS 1, 2, 7, 13, 22] The medieval times — I mean, we studied medieval times — not since medieval times have people seen what’s going on. I would bring back waterboarding and I’d bring back a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding.
Naturally, Trump’s pro-torture, pro-thug, anti-American values, fellow ethics dunces applauded like the disgraces to the human rights values of the United States that they are.
9. Another botched debate topic, the heroin outbreak, lured Chris Christie into ethics nonsense. Talking about heroin addiction, he said,
“This is a disease. It’s not a moral failing. . . . I’m pro-life, not just for the nine months in the womb. It gets a lot harder after that.”
Wrong. You can’t get addicted to heroin unless you intentionally violate the law repeatedly, by having no respect for the law. This is by definition a moral failing.